olympic hymn

Today as the opening ceremonies for the XXX Olympiad took place in London, a cherished tradition was played out for an estimated 62,000 people in the Olympic Stadium and millions of spectators all over the world: the lighting of the Olympic Flame.

The Flame was lit on May 10 at the Temple of Hera in Olympia Greece, flown from Greece to the UK in a specially painted British Airways A319, and then carried by relay runners all over the British Isles over a 70 day period with 68 nighttime celebrations along the way.  With its highly anticipated entry into the stadium, the Olympic Cauldron was ignited, signaling the start of the Games.

The tradition of the Olympic Torch relay comes not from antiquity, but rather was invented 76 years ago by Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda  ministry for the 1936 Berlin Olympics and famously idealized and documented in Leni Riefenstahl’s 1938 film Olympia.

Here is a link to the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TI6yIo-tcc. The opening sequence including the lighting of the Cauldron runs about 23 minutes. It may seem a bit slow-paced to today’s eyes and ears, but it is worth watching because the so-called “Nazi Olympics” were the birthplace of today’s spectacle.

Yet it is ironic that while the torch relay has become a cherished institution in our modern Olympics, a composition by Richard Strauss (which was also performed at the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Olympiad) has become a taboo work due to its association with the Nazis.

In 1932, before the Nazis came to power, Richard Strauss was approached by the German Olympic Committee’s representative to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The German committee desired that an anthem be composed for the 1936 Summer Olympics to be held in Berlin. Early in 1933, Strauss agreed to compose an Olympic Hymn, with the condition that a suitable text be found to set to music.

A competition was held and resulted in 3,000 texts submitted. From fifty possibilities, four were sent to the composer. Strauss chose a poem written by Robert Lubahn, an unemployed actor at the time. Strauss said he was “extraordinarily satisfied” with it.

Olympische Hymne
by Robert Lubahn
Völker! Seid des Volkes Gäste, kommt durch’s offne Tor herein!
Friede sei dem Völkerfeste! Ehre soll der Kampfspruch sein.
Junge Kraft will Mut beweisen, heißes Spiel Olympia!
deinen Glanz in Taten preisen, reines Ziel: Olympia.
Vieler Länder Stolz und Blüte kam zum Kampfesfest herbei;
alles Feuer das da glühte, schlägt zusammen hoch und frei.
Kraft und Geist naht sich mit Zagen. Opfergang Olympia!
Wer darf deinen Lorbeer tragen, Ruhmesklang: Olympia?
Wie nun alle Herzenschlagen in erhobenem Verein,
soll in Taten und in Sagen Rechtsgewalt [Eidestreu] das Höchste sein.
Freudvoll sollen Meistersiegen, Siegesfest Olympia!
Freude sei noch im Erliegen, Friedensfest: Olympia.
Freudvoll sollen Meistersiegen, Siegesfest Olympia!
Olympia! Olympia! Olympia!
(rough translation)
People! The people, our guests, are coming in through open gate!
Peace to the festivities! Honor will be the fight saying.
Youth wants to show courage, hot Olympic games!
Your glory in deeds be praised, pure goal: the Olympics.
Pride and prosperity of many countries came forward to fight hard;
All the fire which burned there, along proposes high and free.
Strength and spirit approaches with trepidation. Sacrifice Olympia!
Who can wear your laurels, fame’s sound: Olympia?
Now as heart beating in a raised club,
Right-violence should be the highest in deeds and in legends.
Joyfully will champions win, Olympic victory celebration!
Joy is still in a standstill of peace: the Olympics.
Joyfully will champions win, Olympic victory celebration!
Olympia! Olympia! Olympia!

(The version sung at the 1936 opening ceremonies differs by only one word from Lubahn’s original submission. Lubahn’s word Rechtsgewalt in the fifth-to-the-last line was replaced by Goebbels, over Lubahn’s objection, with the word Eidestreu, because Goebbels found Lubahn’s usage ambiguous and possibly democratic.)

Composition of the Olympische Hymne was completed by Strauss on December 22, 1934. The principal music theme was derived from a major symphony Strauss planned but never finished.

During the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Strauss invited members of the IOC executive board to hear the hymn sung by an opera star from Munich. In February 1936, the IOC declared Strauss’s composition as the Olympic anthem “for all time,” but their declaration did not survive the war.

Hitler’s troops eventually retraced in reverse the route of the 1936 Olympic torch relay. The route from Olympia to Berlin passed through seven countries that would later be occupied by Germany and its allies. The Nazis’ doctrine of Aryan superiority, ably sanitized and put across in the 1936 Olympics, was exposed by subsequent events as the evil and murderous abomination that it is.

Strauss’ Olympische Hymne, though never a favorite of the composer, was consigned to the ash heap of history along with all the other detritus of the Nazis’ failed dreams.

I tried to find a recording of a modern performance of Strauss’ hymn and came up empty handed. So this 1936 recording will have to do.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to the Berlin State Opera Orchestra and Chorus performing Richard Strauss’ “Olympische Hymne”

5 Responses to “olympic hymn”

  1. 1 Wolfgang
    July 27, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    I’m still impressed by the London opening ceremonies, well don London! I wish you peaceful Olympic games 2012

  2. 2 Andy Rich
    July 27, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Well it went on until almost 1am !!! i think its time to shut my eyes now but by god im so glad we dont dress like they protrayed tonight! All fun and humor! MR BEAN!!!!!

  3. July 28, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    I finally went to bed after I saw the United States competitors walk into the arena. I couldn’t believe they pumped in sulfar smelling smoke during the Industrial Revolution part. All I could think was “Oh My! I can only imagine what the Queen is thinking right now!” I pictured the Queen holding one glove covered finger across the bottom of her nostrils exhibiting a stinky face. LOL I think the Mr. Bean part was the best and it seemed the audience did to by their applause.

    Just to brag a little, I was raised in the same hometown as a past Olympian. We were on the same majorette team when we were 5 & 6 yrs old and later, we actually practiced gymnastics at the same gymnastics’ club, although I was never very good at it (blushing). Our mothers knew each other as did our brothers but we never befriended each other. We went to seperate elementary schools. We were the same age and during our first year of high school had the same 5th period Science class and 6th period P.E. class although she got to ‘cut’ most days to go to gymnastics practice. She only went to our local high school for awhile during 9th grade till she transferred to Texas to train for the Olympics. Our familiy moved to another state after our 9th grade year and at the beginning of my 10th grade year at the new school, I had an assignment to name my favorite this and favorite that which included “Favorite Athlete”. I wrote down the girl’s name from our hometown and the teacher left my answer to that particular question ungraded. When she was returning the graded papers, she asked me “Who is that? I’ve never heard of her.” I answered and she smiled but looked at me with some inquisitive suspicion still unsure of this unknown girl. It wasn’t too long later, she excitedly was able to sign off on my classwork as that young girl made a perfect vault and was propelled into history. That was one of those days when patience paid off.

    The Olympics is different for me, now. Having taken gymnastics with this girl at the same club in our small hometown, I recognized immediately she earned a perfect 10 the moment her feet hit the mat. But more important than that, at that precise moment I realized that if this small town girl from the hilly billy state could break through the impossible and become the victor that I could to…anybody could. That life lesson stuck with me throughout my lifetime. I have her to thank for creating a bridge to make the impossible…possible.

    The Olympics serve as a rememberance for me now. I am immediately taken back to that moment on that day and I am filled with pride and hopefullness all at the same time. If I need rejuvenation, I find it in the reflection of that day. As I watch the Olympics, I see each athlete as someone’s son or daughter, some coach’s sweat and tears. I see an average human being who’s worked really hard to reach a goal and who ultimately has surprised themselves.

    Good luck, Athletes! May the person you prove your best to, be yourself. It will carry you far.


  4. 4 andy rich
    July 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    i have no idea why they did the sulfer smell, but the queen did look pretty pee’d off at one point lol, and phillip, well he was more interested in leaflets lol

  5. 5 Gloria
    July 30, 2012 at 1:35 am

    quoted: If you were scratching your head watching the Olympic opening ceremony, and thinking to yourself, “what on earth has this got to do with sport”? then you were not alone. If, on the other hand, you are like me, and understand how these ancient bloodlines use the power of symbols and ritual to hypnotize the uninitiated, then you could still be in a state of bewilderment as to the sheer bluntness of last nights bloodline ritual masquerading as a sporting event.


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